Researchers Discover “Mindwriting” For Paralyzed Patients, Allowing Them to “Write” As Fast As Smartphones Via Brain Signals
Science continues to prove just how amazing it can be through new technology and continuous breakthrough. As a matter of fact, in a new study, it talks about how a man that is paralyzed from the neck down but can now type words using his brain at the same speed as the average smartphone user. Impressive right?
This process, which is known as “mindwriting” uses a brain-computer interface (BCI) that manages to pick up the neural signals from the brain and feed them into an algorithm, which is then translated into letters.
Although there have been other attempts at success for other BCIs, this particular program managed to produce words at a much faster rate than any of the other BCIs have in the past. That’s because it managed to track the brain signals of the patient, called T5, while the patient was imagining writing them down using a pen. The reason why it was more successful was because the skill of handwriting is said to efficiently imprint on one’s motor skill system even years after a patient becomes paralyzed.
The patient, who happened to be a 65-year old male at the time of the study, became paralyzed all the way back in 2007 after a disastrous spinal cord injury, which was nine years before he was asked to participate in the study.
The study, which can be found in the journal Nature, shares the authors thoughts, as they wrote, “With his BCI, our study participant achieved typing speeds of 90 characters per minute with 94.1% raw accuracy online, and greater than 99% accuracy offline with a general-purpose autocorrect.”
They added, “To our knowledge, these typing speeds exceed those reported for any other BCI, and are comparable to typical smartphone typing speeds of individuals in the age group of our participant.”
The study, which was conducted by Stanford University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, showed that the most common error made by the machine was of the lowercase letters that had similar shapes, like ‘r’, ‘h’, and ‘n’.
The researchers shared how they first allowed the patient to imagine writing each letter just like he would have before using his hand. This eventually moved to asking the patient questions, after which they then let him write out his answers. And according to reports, this ‘pleased him to no end.’
Meanwhile, there are other BCIs and similar machines that were built to allow people suffering from paralysis to write via ‘track eye movement’ since this is one movement that even those having the worst cases of paralysis can still manage to do. One example is the case of the locked-in syndrome patient Jean-Dominique Bauby who is most famous for writing the book “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” which was published back in 1997. Incredibly, the author wrote the novel in the most astonishing and shocking manner, by blinking upon the correct letters that were pointed out by a human aid.
Although Stanford organized other trials using different BCIs, with the usual eye-monitoring equipment, it was deemed highly demanding and tedious considering that amount of attention and focus it required from the one using it.
Currently, this new BCI that uses “mindwriting” is not developed enough to be considered a prototype just yet. This most probably means that it will be years before it becomes commonly used, leaving paralysis patients to patiently wait before they can use this method to communicate with others. But in that same regard, this allows research groups and scientists to have more time to fine tune any issues this new BCI may have, as well as conduct further studies to perfect its overall utilization.